Latvian is one of the two surviving members of the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family, the other being Lithuanian. Like the Estonians, the Latvians regard their language as an endangered species, which is understandable as only just over half of the population in the country-side, and only a third in Riga speak it as their first language. The language has few similarities with other european languages on first glance.

Latvian makes use of a number of special characters (most of them unrenderable here), viz.:

  • c, s, and z (with reversed circumflexes);
  • g (with an acute accent);
  • a,e,i and u (with a breve accent -- long bar over top); &
  • k and n (with a hook)
A few notes on pronunciation. Here are the special letters, with Unicode values, taken from my Using Unicode on E2:

Ā  Ā   ā  ā   A-macron
Č  Č   č  č   C-hacek
Ē  Ē   ē  ē   E-macron
Ģ  Ģ   ģ  ģ   G-cedilla
Ī  Ī   ī  ī   I-macron
Ķ  Ķ   ķ  ķ   K-cedilla
Ļ  Ļ   ļ  ļ   L-cedilla
Ņ  Ņ   ņ  ņ   N-cedilla
Ō  Ō   ō  ō   O-macron
Ŗ  Ŗ   ŗ  ŗ   R-cedilla
Š  Š   š  š   S-hacek
Ū  Ū   ū  ū   U-macron
Ž  Ž   ž  ž   Z-hacek

c is ts, č and š are as in chip, ship, and ž is the zh sound of leisure, régime. These are just as for Czech, Croatian, and Lithuanian.

The letters with the cedilla (hook) are unique to Latvian, representing palatal consonants: ņ is the ny sound of French and Italian gn, Spanish ñ; ļ is ly like Italian gl, Castilian ll; and ķ and ģ are between ky/ty and gy/dy respectively. The cedilla is written underneath a capital G, but because of the tail of the lower-case g the cedilla is written on top of it, rotated. There was also formerly a palatalized letter ŗ as in the word kaŗš 'war', but this was discarded in Latvia after 1940 though retained by expatriates. Apart from that, the alphabet has been in use since 1908.

The vowels occur short and long, long vowels being indicated by the macron bar. Several vowels have peculiarities. The vowel o occasionally has the pronunciation wo, as in ola 'egg'. In some words e has a lower sound, so that e.g. vecs 'old' is like English vats. The group ie is a falling diphthong, as in English ear. Stress is always initial.

Numerals one to ten: viens divi trīs četri pieci seši septiņi astoņi deviņi desmit.

The case endings being archaic, they may look familiar to people who know Latin or Greek: so the masculine nominative singular ends in -s, plural -i (as in draugs 'friend', plural draugi), while the feminine often ends in -a (istaba 'room'). The locative case ends in a long vowel: Draugs ir istabā 'the friend is in the room'.

The language is recorded from the sixteenth century, with a New Testament in 1685. The distinctive Latgalian dialect is also known as East Latvian or High Latvian; the standard language is West Latvian.

The country is Latvija and the language is latviešu. Its capital is Rīga.

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